Protein Skimmer For Freshwater Tank: Should You Use It?

Do you own a salt/freshwater, vibrant reef aquarium? If yes, it can be said with certainty that you have come across the term ‘freshwater protein skimmer’. 

Both the fresh water and saltwater aquariums tend to accumulate fish waste and other toxic contaminants. This is when the role of the protein skimmer comes into play as it eliminates all these waste items from the aquarium. 

protein skimmer

To steer away from all your confusion, we have come up with a comprehensive article to share with you the nitty-gritty of protein skimmers. 

Gear up to plunge into the marine world!

What Is A Protein Skimmer? 

freshwater protein skimmer

A protein skimmer or a foam fractionator is a device or machine largely used in aquariums that have saltwater. As the name suggests, the skimmer basically skims or removes various kinds of organic waste that may include the excreta of fish, undigested food particles and protein remnants. Besides, the skimmer work to enhance the aeration and increase the circulation of air in the aquarium. 

To speak in simple terms, protein skimmers perform the function of removing the water residue from the tank to ensure proper maintenance of fish health. Skimmers also remove bacteria, phytoplankton, and detritus from the aquarium, thus lending a healthier environment to the aquarium. 

The market is flooded with skimmers of various shapes, types and brands. You can choose any protein skimmer that you find suitable for your needs. 

How Does A Protein Skimmer Work? 

closer look at the reefs and fishes

The mechanism of the working principle of a protein skimmer involves a lot of technical complexities. But you don’t need to worry because we are not going to bore you out by blurting out those technical terms. Let’s have a simplified look at how the skimmer works!

It is probable that you have visited a beach at least some time in your life, right? Then, you might have also noticed the foamy substance that the waves leave behind after crashing against the shore. Do you know that the ocean cleanses its water by removing the decayed matter and other waste in the form of foam? This is the very waste substance that looks like foam and we get to see that on the shore. 

A protein skimmer also functions in a similar way, when installed in a saltwater tank. It makes use of the pump mechanism by which it mixes the water with air to give rise to foam. This foam then gets stored in a collection cup. You can throw away the foam from the collection cup whenever it gets filled to the brim. 

You will be amazed to know that protein skimmers suffer a limitation. While it manages to remove a majority of the contaminants present in the tank, the skimmer may fail to remove quite a substantial amount of the contaminants. So, the cleansing is not 100%!

Let’s disclose the reason for such a thing happening! There are actually two kinds of contaminants found in the water of the tank- hydrophilic and hydrophobic. While the hydrophilic contaminants have an affinity for water and are soluble, the hydrophobic contaminants or oils tend to stay away from water and remain insoluble. 

It becomes difficult for the skimmer to remove the hydrophobic contaminants under such circumstances. As a result, they don’t turn into foam and thus don’t get removed from the water in the tank. 

But, here is a cool tip for you! What you can do to remove the oils or hydrophobic contaminants is using activated carbon. Hopefully, the oils from the water tank will be removed then. 

Do You Need To Install Protein Skimmer In Your Aquarium? 

A girl observing a fish in the aquarium

Since a protein skimmer removes all kinds of toxic wastes from the water present in the tank, the health of the fishes and corals is maintained to a great extent. Don’t we all clean our bathtubs to remove traces of bacteria or mold so that we and our families can have a healthy bath? 

Similarly, fishes and corals also need a safe, healthy living environment in the tanks. Emphasis has to be put on the maintenance of water quality in the tanks. And, what better way of purification system can it be than a protein skimmer? 

The aquariums get saturated with food remains as whenever you feed the fishes, corals, or crabs, some amount of food simply drops in the water and gets wasted. Along with the food remains, several other contaminants such as nitrates, phosphates and toxins get dissolved in the water. This leads to the production of foul odor and affects the health of the fish present in the tank. That is why the purification of the tank water is really important. 

You may argue that what is the point of buying protein skimmers if you regularly change the water in the aquarium. In fact, many people conduct water changes and replace the polluted salt water present in the aquariums with fresh, pure water. But this is such an arduous and time-consuming task!

Even if you succeed in removing 30% of the polluted water from the tank, about 70% of the toxic water in the tank will still remain. That is why you need to have a protein skimmer in your aquarium. With this skimmer, be sure to have a healthy water cycle for your fish in the aquarium. 

What Types Of Protein Skimmers Are Available? 

protein skimmer

Now that we have discussed the definition and need of the protein skimmers in the aquarium water, let us share with you the various types of protein skimmers that you might come across in the market. You can choose to buy any that suits your needs. So, if you want to shop, search for that protein skimmer that you think will be the best match for your fish tanks. 

Hang-On or Hob Skimmers 

As you can guess from the name of this skimmer, hang-on or hob skimmers hang on to the back of the aquarium. 

Hob skimmer is the perfect choice for anyone who owns an aquarium that doesn’t have a sump. 

Hang-on skimmers are quite convenient skimmers that remove the proteins and other organic waste that float around in the tank water. 

In-Sump Skimmers 

In-sump skimmers work well in an aquarium that has a sump. This kind of skimmer varies in size. So, it is very important that you choose the in-sump skimmer that fits perfectly with your sump system prevalent in the tank. 

In-Tank Skimmers 

The in-tank skimmer has a very compact size and they don’t occupy much space in the aquarium so as to give more space to the fishes, water plants and coral reefs present in the tank. This kind of skimmer has a slim body so that it fits well in the fish tanks. 

External Skimmers 

As you can clearly understand from the name, external skimmers are to be installed outside the aquarium. It functions in this way. You put the water into the skimmer first and then the protein skimmer cleanses the water by removing the toxic impurities, organic waste and proteins from the tank water. 

The pure water is again fed back into the aquarium water so that proper circulation of oxygen and aeration is maintained. Intake of pure air and water by the fishes is essential to ensure their proper health condition and growth. 

How To Understand If You Need To Use A Protein Skimmer In Your Aquarium? 

fishes and rocks

To understand if you need to use a protein skimmer, it is important to know what type of aquarium you own. Generally, the following types of aquariums, no matter if it has freshwater or saltwater, need a protein skimmer for proper purification of the tank water. 

Live Rock Aquariums or Fish-Only Aquariums 

Do you have an aquarium that only houses a large number of fishes only? If yes, do know that these tanks are called Fish-only aquariums. On the other hand, an aquarium that is crowded by gigantic, heavy live rocks that are organic in nature is known as a Live Rock Aquarium. 

Both the live rock aquariums and fish-only aquariums need the support of a good protein skimmer so that a proper filtration system is in place. 

Aquariums Having Invertebrates 

Aquariums that contain invertebrates like crabs, shrimps, crayfishes, molluscs, etc., fall into this category of fish tanks. 

Since these invertebrate creatures have the tendency to discharge harmful toxins into the freshwater or saltwater of the tank, it becomes really very important that you install a protein skimmer so that the toxic wastes do not affect the survival of other biological beings. 

Reef Aquariums 

Reef aquariums are those that shelter the rich, vibrant corals that have a tendency to discharge waste into the aquarium environment. These waste substances have a negative impact on the health of the other creatures living in the same tank. 

That is why it is very important that you go for a good, user-friendly protein skimmer that functions effectively.

Things To Keep In Mind While Choosing The Right Protein Skimmer 

an aquarium

Investing in a protein skimmer is a good idea, but how will you know if you are investing in the right one? 

The market is strewn with loads of skimmers, but you must be cautious before finalizing your purchase. To ensure that no one can beguile you into purchasing a poor-quality protein skimmer,  we have come up with a list of the factors that you need to keep in mind while going on skimmer shopping. 

Let’s see what these are!


Irrespective of the type of tank that you wish to keep in your tank, no matter if it is a saltwater or reef tank, it is very essential to keep yourself confined to a budget. 

This is because you will have to invest in a bunch of items such as the entire aquarium setup, fishes, food and the creature’s maintenance. If you don’t keep yourself restricted within a certain amount of budget while buying a skimmer, you will unknowingly end up spending more than will ever be required. 

Do a bit of research by calculating the price of each component. Then, fix an average budget and stick to it. Don’t worry, you won’t have to compromise on the quality. You will get a good protein skimmer while sticking on a fixed budget too. 

Size Of The Aquarium 

Look for those protein skimmers that can perfectly fit within your fish tank and can handle the volume of water present in the aquarium. 

Always bear the aquarium size in mind while shopping for protein skimmers. Depending upon how large or small your aquarium capacity is, select the protein simmer. 

Strength Of The Skimmer 

Before investing in a protein skimmer, make sure that it is powerful enough to function in a 100-gallon tank. 

Even if you have nano reefs or house sensitive creatures inside the fish tank, purchasing a 100-gallon skimmer is advisable as it would have the capability to deep-cleanse the water and remove any toxic substance that might be present in the tank. 

Size Of The Skimmer 

Pay proper attention to the size of the skimmer while purchasing it. This is because if you have got a very large aquarium, a small skimmer won’t work well. 

Similarly, if you own a small aquarium, a large skimmer won’t be fitted properly. In such a case, you have to invest in a skimmer that is compact and won’t take up much space in the already small fish tank. 

Now that you know which factors you need to bear in mind while buying a protein skimmer, let’s have a look at the qualities and reviews of the top protein skimmers. 

Top Protein Skimmers For The Fish Tank & Their Reviews 

#1: Bubble Magus BM-CURVE 5 

Bubble Magus BM-CURVE 5 protein skimmer is the ideal choice for every aquarist and beginner. This is an easy-to-use skimmer and has a compact size. So, you can place it even in a small space in an aquarium. You can use it in any tank having a capacity of up to 140 gallons. 

bubble magus

Since this protein skimmer releases small air bubbles, your tank stays completely clean and removes all kinds of impurities from both the saltwater aquariums and freshwater aquariums alike. The small bubbles are more effective at filtering the wastes. 

The SP1000 internal pump along with its curved body makes it a more beneficial choice as its filtration system is simply amazing. You get a 1-year warranty at the time of purchasing this. 

#2: SCA-302

SCA-302 is a good choice for anyone who owns a reef aquarium or saltwater aquarium. It is an in-sump protein skimmer and operates well in any tank having a capacity of up to 180 gallons. 

SCA 302

It comes with a very large collection cup where the foam along with the toxins is stored. One demerit of this skimmer is that you need to clean and wash the skimmer at least every month. Otherwise, it becomes cloudy and picks up dirt quickly. 


This protein skimmer of the SIMPLICITY brand is very easy to handle and works fine in any tank having a capacity of up to 120 gallons. 

simplicity DC

It comes with a very easy-to-handle DC pump speed. You can make the filtration system work at a rate for your tank system that you find convenient. This skimmer is equipped with a needle wheel that scrapes the air and water, thus leading to the formation of tiny bubbles. All kinds of wastes are completely removed from the water surface of the aquarium.

The bubble plate present in the skimmer releases the mixture of bubble and water into the cone. Thus, all the organic pollutants are eliminated from the aquarium. If you have a very large aquarium or fish tank, this is definitely going to be a good skimmer choice for you. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do protein skimmers remove phosphates from the water? 

Protein skimmers work effectively to remove phosphates and wash up the cloudy tanks. The vigorous algae growth is also arrested by the skimmers. 

Can nitrates be removed from the aquarium by the protein skimmers?

Before the nitrogen is broken down in the water, the protein skimmers remove nitrates from the aquarium. 

Do protein skimmers function all the time? 

Basically, there are two kinds of protein skimmers- one that functions full-time and another that functions part-time. Depending upon the type of aquarium, it can be ascertained if the protein skimmer functions all the time or part-time. 


About the author

I'm Gulshan, a passionate pet enthusiast. Dive into my world where I share tips, stories, and snapshots of my animal adventures. Here, pets are more than just animals; they're heartbeats that enrich our lives. Join our journey!thing.